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MANILA — It is final. Nora Aunor will not be included in this year’s set of National Artists.

Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. explained that President Aquino has the prerogative to choose the persons who deserve the highest recognition for their contributions to local arts.

“It is the duty of the President to decide on who among the shortlisted nominees deserve to be conferred the Order of the National Artist. In making the decision, the President considered how each of the nominees measured up to the criteria for choice,” Coloma said.

“We are certain that his decision was based on what will best serve the national interest because the Order of the National Artist gives recognition to those who excelled in the arts and letters and embodied the goodness and nobility of the Filipino people,” he added.

The President earlier issued the proclamation declaring six persons as National Artists, namely Alice Reyes for dance, Francisco V. Coching (posthumous) for visual arts, Cirilo Bautista for literature, Francisco F. Feliciano and Ramon Santos for music, and Jose Maria V. Zaragoza (posthumous) for architecture.

Aunor, who was nominated for film, was not included in the list. Some groups have cried foul over the exclusion of the actress in the roster of National Artists despite her significant achievements in the film industry.

Coloma argued, however, that the President has the “final decision” on who will be proclaimed National Artist.

“It is the highest recognition given to outstanding Filipinos in the arts and letters so it is only proper the highest leader of the country who has the mandate of the people, who was elected, would have the final decision on who deserves to be National Artist,” Coloma said in Filipino.

The President earlier reportedly refused to confer the Order of National Artist on Aunor because of her alleged use of illegal drugs, a Manila Bulletin source said. The source said the President wanted to ensure the National Artists could be role models for the Filipino nation especially the youth.

Asked if the drug case of the film actress was considered in the selection process, Coloma admitted he has not yet talked to the President about the matter. (Manila Bulletin)